The Michigan Supreme Court threw out charges on Tuesday against former Governor Rick Snyder and eight public officials involved in the 2014 Flint Water crisis, saying a one-man jury wrongly indicted them.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, who took office in 2019, authorized using a one-man grand jury rather than charging officials in open court. That one man — Democrat-appointed Judge David Newblatt — issued the indictments after considering the evidence behind closed doors.
Chief Justice Bridget McCormack called the one-man jury a “Star Chamber comeback,” referencing 17th-century English court proceedings held in secret and abused by high-ranking officials.
However, Michigan’s highest court ruled unanimously against the wrongful charges, noting state laws “authorize a judge to investigate, subpoena witnesses, and issue arrest warrants.”
“But they do not authorize the judge to issue indictments,” McCormack wrote.
“To this day, the defendants do not know what evidence the prosecution presented to convince the grand jury (i.e., juror) to charge them,” she wrote.
Justice Richard Bernstein concurred, writing separately that Nessel’s office “invoked obscure statutes, specifically to deprive defendants of their statutory right to a preliminary examination.”
When an attorney general authorizes a one-man grand jury, state law grants the right to a preliminary examination that disqualifies the judge who conducted the hearing.
A few of the defendant’s lawyers challenged the indictments, which also applied to Snyder and others, asking for a preliminary examination. However, officials denied the motion, “holding that indicted person have no right to a preliminary examination.”
The Associated Press reported that “the attorney general’s office had no immediate comment on the decision.”
Snyder’s legal team described the court’s opinion to The Associated Press as “unequivocal and scathing.”
“These prosecutions of Governor Snyder and the other defendants were never about seeking justice for the citizens of Flint,” Snyder’s lawyers told The Associated Press. “Rather, Attorney General Nessel and her political appointee Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud staged a self-interested, vindictive, wasteful and politically motivated prosecution.”
The Associated Press reported Snyder acknowledged his administration’s failure in Flint by calling it a crisis born from “a breakdown in state government.”
Before the state’s highest court threw out charges against Snyder, he faced two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty.
Former Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon and Michigan’s former chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, were charged with involuntary manslaughter for nine deaths.
Six others were also indicted on various charges: Snyder’s longtime fixer, Rich Baird; former senior aide Jarrod Agen; former Flint managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley; former Flint public works chief Howard Croft; and Nancy Peeler, a state health department manager, The Associated Press reported.
“The Democrat-majority Michigan Supreme Court has slapped down Dana Nessel’s abuse of power and ruled her political witch hunt illegal,” Tori Sachs, executive director of Michigan Freedom Fund, a non-profit conservative advocacy group, said in a statement. “Dana Nessel’s legal ineptitude cost Michigan taxpayers millions of dollars while she weaponized the judicial system to attack her political opposition.”
Sachs said before Michigan’s Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday, “[it] was the only state in the nation using one-person grand juries to target citizens with criminal charges.”
A report by The Daily Caller reveals the judge who served as a one-person grand juror previously donated to Democrat politicians.
The Flint Water crisis began in 2014 when health officials changed the city’s drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money. But poor corrosion control treatments and testing of the supply resulted in fatal and other serious health issues for Flint residents. As a result, lead and other contaminants permeated the water, which infected 91 people and killed 12 others in the Flint area.
A judge approved a $600-million settlement in 2021 for the victims of the Flint water crisis, saying it’s “a fair and sensible resolution of the claims against the settling defendants.”